I couldn’t help but listen in. RB, an upperclassman, was reveling in his “accomplishment” over the weekend.
“We found a gate into the pasture and drove out toward where they were sleeping,” he said, lowering his voice. “The first one woke up and ran off, just as we got close. We were trying to be quiet, but it was hard because we were laughing so hard! I think the final count was 15, and I was worn out. Pushing over that many cows is harder than you think!”
That’s right, RB had been cow-tipping. As the son of a dairy farmer, his story was especially interesting to me. That same weekend, I had spent an hour rounding up cows that had escaped through an open gate we never used. My dad called the veterinarian out, because 11 of the cows were obviously hurt and had blood in their milk. Turns out they had broken ribs and had to be removed from production. And for our small operation, those cows represented 14 percent of our producing herd.
More than 20 years later, I’m still blown away when I think about RB and his involvement in this idiotic pastime. How could he have been so shortsighted and selfish? His family owned the most successful dairy operation in the area. As a dairyman, he should have had a greater appreciation for what those big, dumb animals represented… cash and our way of life.
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But now, after a decade of studying how people achieve and sustain personal success, I better understand RB’s actions. He lacked two of the critical factors necessary for a successful mindset: gratitude and purpose.
Without gratitude, without an appreciation for what is good and right about our own lives, we are unlikely to be sensitive to how our actions impact others. RB wasn’t grateful for his own lifestyle, so how could he have an appreciation for anyone else’s?
RB found that out the hard way when his family’s multimillion-dollar farm went broke within three years of his taking over. In the aftermath, he realized how self-centered he had been. I know that, because he applied for a job in the business unit I was running at the time. He shared his personal revelation with me and told me that he hoped to make a new start.
After some soul searching, I passed RB and two other candidates on to our company president. RB got the nod. For the next two months, I coached him. And though he was sincere in his attempt to take control of his life, I still needed to continually prod and motivate him to stay on track.
RB’s absence of purpose was just as fundamental to his old mindset as his lack of gratitude. I’m not just talking about some transcendental concept of purpose, but about a practical, down-to-earth purpose. “Why am I doing this and what do I hope to gain?” Answering that question brings focus and meaning to our lives. Without the answer, without a purpose for our actions, good decisions are accidents.
By asking RB some very pointed questions — by digging in with one “Why is that important?” question after another — I finally got him to the core of why he was starting over.
It was an emotional moment. RB actually cried.
The bigger the task or opportunity in front of us, the bigger our purpose for taking it on has to be. RB was uprooting his family, moving to a big city, starting a brand-new career… but hadn’t figured out why.
Before I started coaching him, he assumed he was doing it to make more money. But money, by itself, is never a strong enough motivator. As it turned out, it wasn’t even in RB’s top five of what was really important to him.
With his new found appreciation for life and a supremely powerful purpose for what he was trying to accomplish, RB became my most valuable colleague in less than six months. He made decisions quickly, accurately, and in alignment with what mattered most to the company. Our business unit grew from $600,000 per year to $8,000,000 during his first full year, and he had a big hand in that growth. He took over for me when I left the company, and was eventually recruited by our largest competitor.
At home, he made a similar transition, instilling in his wife and children the same principles I taught him.
One of his children was a 2010 Winter Olympian, and she considers “What my dad taught me about how to think” to be her biggest competitive asset. That makes me proud.
So, what were the keys to RB’s transformation from cow-tipping redneck to poster boy for success?
- A wake-up call. This is usually caused by an event that causes so much pain that you can’t ignore your need for change — but you can generate your own wake-up call with a little personal awareness.
- Gratitude. Being grateful is actually easier when the chips are down. When all of the things we take for granted are disappearing or gone, we give our attention to what is left. The trick is to maintain gratitude for what we have, while we have it.
- Purpose. It seems so fundamental… but how often do we set a goal, take on a task, or engage in an activity without knowing what we want to accomplish? Having purpose is one of the greatest keys to eliminating disappointment and increasing fulfillment in life.
- A mentor. I had the great privilege of being just the right person at just the right time for RB — but there is more at work here than good timing. First make up your mind that you are ready to learn and grow. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
- Never stop learning. Become a lifelong learner. Maintain a healthy sense of humility and fascination with the world. You never know where your next wonderful lesson may come from.
PJ is a veteran of Early to Rise’s 5 Days in July Internet Business-Building Conference. Come to this year’s 5 Days in July Conference with nothing — no website, no products, and no experience or technical knowledge — and you’ll leave with your own Internet business.]